Sulagna Misra
September 12, 2015 6:00 am

Who doesn’t love money? It’s amazing for paying your rent and bills and your groceries. If you have a bit more, it’s wonderful for getting a gym membership or indulging yourself when it comes to shopping and travel. If you have even more, it’s lovely to invest in your future or pay off your debt in a flash.

But what if you had so much more than that?

Personally, my imagination starts stretching at that point. It’s not that I don’t know what I’d do with the money – an Iron Man suit and a sharp investment portfolio are on the top of my list – it’s just that I can’t imagine having that much money just lying around. Then again, I’m a bit of a plebe compared to the people Evelyn Beegan meets in Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford.

With Everybody Rise Clifford has been compared to Edith Wharton with good reason: this is a tale about money. Not about rich people or having money or the fantasy of money. The book is a horror story, a suspenseful tale of how money moves and bleeds and cuts.

The book starts in 2006, with a foreboding sense of doom of the oncoming economic crisis. Evelyn Beegan starts working for a social media site marketed directly to the über-rich (called People Like Us, natch) and has to get membership up. While Evelyn’s family is pretty rich – at one point she guess they have at least a few million – they’re nothing compared to the jobless, directionless tier of rich that she desperately wants to be a part of the website. At least, at first. That’s before she starts reacting to her family problems and dwindling social stature by throwing herself into the fray, befriending high profile socialites and rich bankers alike while playing old money games of debutantes, sailing, and charity events. We also continually eavesdrop on Evelyn’s banker and investor friends discussing the country impending economic doom, which is half-queasy and half-confusing, even when everyone describes the terms used.

Throughout the book, I was reminded of pre-recession New York-set or -adjacent movies and books like Gossip Girl, The Au Pairs, Bergdorf Blondes, and It Girl. Remember when it was so much fun to think about rich people in a playful way, willfully ignoring all the corrupt, rotten insides that came with it? Even when we had stories that touched the surface of that – Pretty Little Liars, Private, The Devil Wears Prada, The Nanny Diaries, Revenge – we could still indulge in the capitalist joys of beautiful clothing and secure futures while also having the fantasy of cleaning our hands of these emotionally bankrupt rich people. We got to have our cake and eat it too, the way Marie Antoinette would’ve wanted, because perhaps if the people of France could’ve seen and fantasized and been allowed into, at least, the margins of her lifestyle, she could’ve kept her head.

Instead of that happy arc where the main character learns from her mistakes about rich people and learns to stick with her friends (her own kind) even as they struggle in the big city – similar, perhaps, to the absorbing Friendship by Emily Gould – we see the way that Evelyn’s psyche erodes under the pressure. It’s a tense and engrossing read, to see how Evelyn starts reassessing herself so differently: deliberately avoiding her family problems, assessing men based on how they can up her social status, letting herself be consumed by her rich friends.

But what’s most unique about Clifford’s book is you never forget about the money. Specifically, of how much the main character literally pays for the lifestyle, both with credit cards and sense of self. Nothing takes the wind out of an indulgent rich person’s fantasy than hearing about how much it costs and how much you can’t afford it, but most of all of who you’re expected to be around when you use it.

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